The Gladden Plan: A Sustainable Development Plan for Belize
Since the days of Colonialism Belize has been mired in an inability to prosper sufficiently to advance the standard of living of the population as a whole. Some of the population have prospered but the majority of the population is locked in a cycle of agrarian poverty and village sustenance economics. Wide spread poverty exists in all three forms, food poverty, capabilities poverty and asset poverty. The family farm or shop usually but not always makes just enough to survive but never enough to really move forward. There are few jobs that require a higher level of education hence there is no incentive for parents to require their children to complete basic high school education much less continue into the university system. Additionally many of our agricultural sectors are not competitive on the world market. What agricultural products we do produce are difficult to market because of lack of processing facilities and lack of access to international markets by our small producers. Coupled with difficult road conditions and expensive fuel the typical rural Belizean has no hope of selling more than a few heads of cabbage to our local market if weather conditions permit. It is well known there are many niche crops that could be grown in Belize however the obstacles in developing these industries are very difficult to overcome for any individual.
The most successful colonies expanded their economies by way of industrialization and massive infrastructure projects. Belize has always been and is being exploited for its natural resources by both foreigners and Belizeans alike. We have never developed the means to locally process our natural resources and hence add value and by successful marketing, expand our economy.
Indeed there are many problems associated with establishing viable manufacturing and processing industries in Belize. Lack of raw materials, high cost of electricity, high cost of fuel, lack of trained work force, lack of a developed market, and an inadequate transportation system are some of the major challenges we face in the task of bringing our nation out of the poverty that currently grips much of the population and government. To some degree we must industrialized to survive. We simply don't have enough tax base to provide basic community services to the citizens of our nation. We cannot reasonably expect to raise revenue by raising taxes on an overstressed economy with ingrained poverty at the levels we have.
Our tourism industry which has become a cornerstone of the economy is in the doldrums as well. We are drifting along on a very turbulent sea with no apparent direction. Authorities are caught in the battle between commercial exploitation and sustainable ecotourism and are too easily swayed by the fast buck, catch and kill, mentality that haunts us and they seem unable to progress in either direction for long at a time. Add to that the fact that we have some 240 miles of coastline that is virtually not developable because it cannot be accessed by road.
Immediately to the north Quintana Roo successfully attracts 5 million visitors annually. Although we would like to attract some of these visitors to Belize we have never formulated a plan that would achieve that result. Our transportation system and infrastructure is so inadequate that a trip to Belize from Mexico becomes more of an adventure than a vacation and very few find their way from Mexico to see the wonders of Belize. Except for the International Airport, Belize is effectively isolated from the rest of the world and its opportunities with little chance of change.
Immediately to the South of Belize lies the most affluent populations and productive agricultural ares of Guatemala including Rio Dulce and Puerto Barrios and is a short drive to Guatemala City. Even though we have many visitors from Guatemala the transportation infrastructure connecting our two countries is virtually non existent and serves as the lynch pin of the ongoing territorial dispute
Our plan is a logical extension of what history has taught us. We propose to move Belize forward by massive infrastructure projects coupled with planned industrial expansion and tourism development. This is a course that has proven successful in other colonies and should work for us as well.The spine of our program will be an International Super Highway connecting the rich farmlands and affluent populations of Guatemala with the markets of CanCun and an International Highway and Airport on North Ambergris Caye connecting the Mexican Riviera to Ambergris Caye and San Pedro Town and a Western Super Highway extending to the Western border.
From the Tourism stand point, the mainland International highway will allow all of Central America to benefit from the International Airport in Cancun and all its connections to the European markets. Those who wish to study Maya history and ancient cultures will find it much easier than ever before by coming through Belize. Our International Highway will be similar to an interstate highway in the US reaching from our border with Mexico at Santa Elena to the Sarstoon at the Guatemala border tying into the Guatemala road system.The effects of this massive infrastructure project are far reaching and will forever change Belize from an out of the way difficult to reach destination to the gateway to Central America. It will also forever change the face and migration patterns of the populations of Central America.This map is conceptual and not necessarily the exact route
These super highway will be toll roads and will be constructed a mile or less from the shoreline more or less paralleling the coast with some deviations dictated by conditions. The Western Super Highway will approximate the path of the existing Western Highway.
This will immediately provide jobs and increased economic activity needed to jump start our economy. The implications for jump starting our economy should be obvious to all and a plan can be devised that will assure the broadest impact on our unemployment rate providing jobs for many as well as inject money into our national and local economies.
The strategic positioning of the International Highway will allow the coast of Belize which up till now has been largely inaccessible to be developed. Until now most land developed for tourism has been concentrated on the Cayes,. This will both take environmental pressure off the Cayes and provide a multitude of opportunities for developments on the mainland.
This plan will also include a new International Airport along with the formation of a new community to be constructed in the Basil Jones area of North Ambergris Caye The infrastructure package will include a 4 lane highway from the Mexican border at Bacalar Chico south ending at San Pedro Town. This road will tie together the Mexican Riviera, the new airport and community in the Basil Jones area of North Ambergris Caye and San Pedro Town which will become the gateway to the Cayes. An agreement with Mexico has already been signed expressing agreement to build this road.
As guests will no longer have the expensive shuttle flight from P.S. Goldson it should lower the cost of visiting the Cayes thus boosting tourism and revitalizing the construction industry of Ambergris Caye. San Pedro Town has long been the source of much revenue for the GOB. Wages earned in San Pedro are sent to every village in the country and it is in the best interest of all to enhance the infrastructure of our single largest producer of income, both for the government and the population. It will pay dividends to us all.
After crossing below Shipstern Lagoon the International Highway will pick up the coast more or less where a new community will spring up providing service to the new developments on North Ambergris Caye as well adventure tours and archeological tours of the Sarteneja Reserve. As the highway proceeds south the entire north coast will for the first time become accessible for potential developments.
The highway will jog around Belize City and rejoin the coast for its run to the Guatemala border opening opportunities as it goes. It will ease transportation problems for the citrus and banana industries providing all weather access to the port at Big Creek. Tourism will undoubtedly spring up along the South coast as the coast becomes accessible for development. Punta Gorda will grow into a thriving city being the first town along the highway coming from Guatemala.
If you draw a straight line from CanCun to heartland of Central America you will see that a road across Belize is the logical path and most direct path. The 5,000,0000 annual visitors arriving in Cancun will become part of our market. As we complete the International Highway we will immediately become the Gateway to Central America going south and the Gateway to Mexico going north. Now the commercial and tourist traffic enters Guatemala from Mexico and Mexico from Central America through Chiapas and it is a notoriously bad crossing. Belize will be able to compete from a position of strength for a share of that market.
As the International Highway bends around Belize City it will intersect with a sister super highway ending at the Guatemala border on the Western Frontier. This new Western Super Highway will make transportation of passengers, goods and materials from the Cayo District much safer and practical in all weather and provide a better link to our neighbor. Too many have lost their lives on the Western Highway and the human cost alone makes this part of the project worthwhile. This will enhance accessibility to the capitol in Belmopan as well as allow for the ever growing tourism industry in the Cayo District to continue to expand in a safer fashion. As this district also produces much of our local agricultural goods the increased accessibility of the farmers and other producers to an efficient transportation system will benefit us all.
Achieving a reasonable price of dependable electrical power for industrial development will be addressed by installing wind farms in suitable areas. The modern systems produce anywhere from 1 megawatt to 2.6 megawatts of power. One small wind farm could power the whole country which needs less than 70 megawatts. It would also allow for growth and industrial expansion. If we choose we can expand capacity to become a net exporter of electricity rather than being dependent on foreign power as we currently are.
As the development of these highways progress we will develop industrial zones at appropriate locations adjacent to the highways. These zones will operate much as our current EPZís but will provide small farmers and manufacturers with cooperative processing and marketing facilities enabling them to add value to their products and be able to access markets via the International Highway.
As the new highway system opens there will be a reasonable way to import raw materials and export finished products or agricultural goods. As the wind farms come online electrical power costs should drop. These factors will all work together to make industrial development possible in Belize. As we attract factories by giving away land in the new Industrial zones we will also attract more highly educated professionals to operate these new facilities. This will speed our transfer of technology and encourage our youths to seek higher education to fill these newly created positions and our educational system will start to develop according to the needs placed upon it. As we all know the current brain drain retards our national capacities and retards the development of our society as the cream of the crop often stay abroad after going to university as there are no jobs suitable for their educational level in Belize.
In order for this level of development to succeed we must truly expand our consciousness concerning our attitudes toward our environment. The DOE must be expanded and be allowed to operate without any political interference whatsoever. The undertaking of this level of development will raise many environmental issues. All must be resoled in the favor of sustainable development with a bias towards environmental conservatism. It has been said that a fool learns from his own mistakes while a wise man learns from the mistakes of others. We wish to be environmentally wise. Recent surveys have shown that travelers are willing to spend more on green destinations that conventional tourist destinations. As a nation we should embrace ecotourism to the fullest, complete with all itís environmental responsibilities and try to develop policies and habits that can be admired worldwide. We only need the political will to do so.
Our nation has a current population of around 325,000. Of that number 45% are under the age of 18. These are our children and we have an obligation to provide them with jobs and a chance to have meaningful productive lives. This development program will provide jobs immediately and long term. It is but a framework from which we will build addressing issues such as crime control, industrial development, agricultural development and tourism development independently and in depth.
For this plan to have maximum effect it requires the consultation of anyone who wishes to participate. Pending the launch of our website we have established email service at [email protected]
Please send comments to that address or post your comments here.